Welcome back to Behind Cart Doors, a new Eater feature that goes inside popular Portland food carts — literally — to see how kitchen set-ups work in those tiny cart spaces. Now up: SE Belmont's The Honey Pot.
After being a mostly stay-at-home mother to her two young children, Mary Casanave Sheridan was faced with returning to work following her divorce in 2010. Sheridan, a classically trained pastry chef, has held a variety of baking positions over the years, but was unsure how to restart her career. After a few conversations with friend Erica Riley, who is co-owner of one of Bend, Oregon's first and most successful food carts, Spork, Sheridan decided that opening a food cart in Bend was the best solution. After a short period of planning, finding partners, and a bit of recipe experimentation, the Honey Pot was born.
In early spring of 2012, the Honey Pot moved to Portland with Sheridan as its sole owner, bringing its lineup of sweet pie slices and savory pot pies to SE Belmont's Good Food Here pod. As previously reported, plans are to open the Honey Pot's first-ever brick-and-mortar bakery on N. Mississippi later this year, and as construction ramps up on the new location, Sheridan talked with Eater about pre-baking pies, cart break-ins, and receiving drive-by performances courtesy Darth Vader on a unicycle.
What's the size of your cart?
13 feet by 7 feet.
What's the size of your cart window that looks out onto the street?
3 feet by 4 feet.
How many employees to you currently have for cart operations?
The Honey Pot currently employees one to three people depending on the season: I do it alone in the dead of winter when the Honey Pot is open seven hours or less, five days a week. In the summer, when it's open 12 hours or so seven days a week, the Honey Pot has two full-time employees including myself. It's a cycle of ramping up and cutting back with the seasons. Holidays bring an influx of work with Thanksgiving being our busiest holiday.
How much prep/fridge space do you have, and how does that affect what you offer on your menu?
We have one small prep top fridge, and one tall fridge. We designed the cart to fit our desired menu, not the other way around. Space does tend to limit our menu at times... we only have space for 10 or so options at a time. The benefit to that is we have a rotating menu. Customers can come back week-to-week and the menu will have new options or classic options that we haven't had for a few months. There are a few mainstays that we always keep on the menu because people love them, like the "Pendleton" and the "Downhome" pot pie.
Are there any advantages of having limited space?
The advantages are our ingredients are fresh; we don't have back-up storage space for more than a couple days of service; low overhead and direct contact with customers; the ability to change the menu often and to work with small farms, dairies, and orchards.
What about disadvantages?
The disadvantages are not being able to take on large catering jobs for lack of prep and storage space; limits to the amount of business we can do in general for this reason and we must shop and order often as we have no back-up storage space. Growth is very limited. And security. Our cart has been broken into twice, resulting in the loss of monetary assets, lost sales to repair damage, and petty property loss. Other carts in our own pod and around the city have also experienced this to varying degrees.
So how do you bake in a cart?
The pies are baked fresh daily in the mornings and throughout the day as needed and as we run out. We have a double oven, warming oven, fridge, freezer, and stove top. The pulled pork is cooked overnight in a crock pot to be ready in the morning to fill the pot pies. The other pot pie mixtures are made in large batches in the morning. We can cook multiple sweet and savory pies at a time because we make large badges of pie dough and other fillings and can bake multiple pies at a time. [...] When pot pies are baked they are then moved to a warming oven and kept toasty and ready to be served as soon as a customer orders.
You get an order at the window: Walk us through what the next steps are. i.e., how are the cooking/assembling tasks divvied up, and again, how does the layout of the cart affect that?
All of our prep and cooking is done before we receive the order. Savory pies are baked often and held in a warming oven to be ordered, and sweet pies are similarly baked often and held at the appropriate temperature awaiting serving. Proper pie baking is a laborious and multi-step process. It is artisan work... but all of this process is accomplished so that pies are always fresh and available at the peak meal periods. When we receive the order the pie is plated or boxed and served. That's it. One thing that sets us apart from other carts is that our food is always hot, fresh, and available immediately. There is no waiting.
If you could "wish list" one item to have room for, what would it be?
An air conditioner. It gets pretty cozy in there mid-summer.
What's the weirdest thing you've witnessed out of your window?
My first week in business I was visited by a drive-by-performance of a unicycle riding, bagpipe playing, Darth Vader. I was pretty excited at the time, but since found out he is a regular sight around town. The next most exciting event, for entirely different reasons, was when the ATM was stolen from our pod (and quickly recovered). Unfortunately, food carts have been increasingly targeted by thieves and vandals because of lack of security and poorly lit pods. They are likely much easier to break into from a back door as well. It seems that these criminals are getting more and more bold in their efforts.
· The Honey Pot Bakery [Official site]
· All Previous Food Cart Coverage [Eater PDX]